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27 Dresses: 27 laughs, one burn of the heart, a moral dilemma, and something about citrus drinks

Have you ever noticed that life tends to hand out lemons with the left hand and lemonade with the right hand?

The lemons...

Tuesday night, still reeling from the knowledge that our dog has cancer, I was laying in bed, my arms flung wide. You might imagine this was Drama Personified, but it wasn't. My lymph nodes were so swollen I couldn't put my arms down.

"Great," I snuffled nasally to my husband, because my sinuses were burning and my eyes were running, "Next it will be the thyroid, and then I'll go to this awesome social media conference on Thursday looking like a runaway boa that swallowed a Bocce ball."

He snorted at me in laughter, which was not the sympathy I was begging for, pitifully.

"It will move up to the pituitary and then we'll all be sorry," I said threateningly and vengefully.

He fast-forwarded through the American Idol auditions.

I sniffed.

He looked at me.

I sniffed again.

He sniffed.

We looked at each other.

And we flew out of the bed. Burning! Burning plastic! Our house was on fire. I checked the upstairs, kids' rooms first. He took the downstairs. We sniffed outlets, unplugged appliances, scoped out the attic. I searched corners, felt walls, he opened doors, touched floors. We spent an entire hour trying to find the fire.

You are thinking, why not call the fire department, you idiots?

Trust me, we said the same thing to ourselves, but with no smoke or any evidence we felt too stupid to do so. We'd spend a bit of time checking this or that, try to settle in to bed, then leap up, panicked again. I'd shake the carbon monoxide detector and he'd check the smoke detector.

All while trying hard not to wake the children.

10 p.m. I said, "My arm pits hurt," and my lovely husband looked at me like I had two heads, and climbed back up into the attic. I walked back to the master bedroom and picked up the phone and called my best friend in the neighborhood. Her husband answered.

"Hello, Julie," he said. I like to think everyone amuses him as much as it seems I do.

"Does your house smell like it's got a plastic fire?" I asked without hesitation or pleasantries.

"My what? What? Why would you ask that?" he said, much more calmly than you might imagine. But I'm sure I'm nothing compared to astronauts on the space phone with him saying things like, "Houston, large chunks of Vital Parts of the Shuttle just broke off during re-entry."

In the background his wife, my friend is calling out, "Is that Julie? Is that Julie? She's calling about the burning smell isn't she?!?"

I can hear him move the phone from his mouth and say, "The what?"

He pauses and listens, I hear her in the background. I can't make out much beyond, "Stinking AWFUL...sick as a dog...the CAR...!!"

He gets back on the phone, "Well you ladies with your Spidey sense of smell can apparently note the benzene levels in the air simply by sniffing. I'm to tell you that YES we smell that and it's STINKING AWFUL and she pulled the car off the road on the way home from church several times she was so convinced the car had to be on fire. So NO it's not your house, it's just the chemical plants to the north of us."

"Oh, okay, well that's a relief," I said, "No, wait, no it's NOT, not a relief AT ALL," I asserted.

We traded a few details, and I issued an abject apology for calling so late, he extended reassurances it was okay, and we hung in the knowledge that our homes weren't burning but the toxic plants north of us were emitting foul odors that did who knows what.

The smell was so dreadful even those of us used to the stench of the plants to the north panicked; my husband assumed some plant must have had a leak or blown up. And news stories to that effect.

Just a stench that made us ill, all night.

The lemonade...

Obviously, then, the thing to do Wednesday night is join my fab girl friends for a chick flick.

We went to see 27 Dresses, which was good...really beyond my expectations. It was at least 27 laughs---literally laughing out loud---especially during the Benny and the Jets scene at the bar.

All of us enjoyed the movie, overall. Especially because we were Out, which we relish the way a dog who finally finished digging a hole his size and escaped under the fence would.

There were some true tender moments in the movie, too. Good chemistry between the characters, as well.

It was an enjoyable evening with nice friends and a good movie. I was impressed because it was better written and acted than I expected. I recommend the film if it is the sort of thing you like.

But it did open up a slight moral dilemma. One character was a writer and wrote something that upset another character. It brought back up the question many of us have asked: are people we know fair fodder for writing? People in our real lives? People we know or read online? Other bloggers? Things we read, such as blog posts, emails, news stories, etc? Are other people and the things they do fair fodder for our blogs (or other writing)?

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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Robert said…
I think other people can be fair game if you either change the names to protect their identity, ask them if they would be offended by being written about, or enough time has passed that people will understand you are not writing about a present condition.

If you're unsure about writing about someone you care about, though, it's probably best to only write it in a personal journal or not write it at all.

I liked 27 Dresses, and I'm a guy. I think there were maybe three other guys in the theather with probably a hundred girls on a Monday night. Still, I enjoyed it, especially because my wife did. Our two kids were perfect, too, as one slept through it all and the other just watched with rapt attention. He even started saying "No" when Heigl's character was learning to say no. It was cute. Since so many girls talked about the movie, I never worried that any could complain about it if my son did get fussy, but he never did. So that's a thumbs up from two guys.
Karen Jensen said…
I used to live in an apartment in Downtown Omaha and there was a constant smell of refrigerant in the air. I worry about our world. And, I worry about you with the burning plastic smell. yuck.
S said…
Re 1, that is very, very frightening. I wish you'd move elsewhere (the house next door to me is STILL for sale!). I know you've made good friends in Texas, and certain aspects of life there are wonderful, but I do worry about you.

Re 2, let's see if I can convince my husband to go!

Re 3, I worry about this all the time. It's why I never blog about my husband (whether I were writing nice things about him or mean would be irrelevant to him -- he doesn't want to appear much at all, regardless of how I spin him).
ewe are here said…
The fire ... very disturbing.

The movie ... I'm envious. I really really want to go and see this one in the theatre, and my inlaws are coming next weekend, but my husband said since i picked the last, oh, well ALL the movies we've seen, he gets to pick this time. And this isn't it.

I'm working on him. ;-)
Anonymous said…
Well, you know how worried I am about what you are breathing, so I won't go there.

I do not write about my husband (much) because it would then permeate our relationship and he would feel the need to censor himself. Others? (I mean other decent people) I change names and get their approval if they are identifiable.

But, I do worry about this with the book. All I can say is, though it may hurt some who don't deserve it, I think that is outweighed by the good it can do.

Or, at least that's what I tell myself.

Mary Alice said…
I try not to write anything that will hurt someone else...if I wouldn't say it to them, I won't write about it.
cinnamon gurl said…
I think about the issue of people as blog fodder all the time, and also vis a vis my photography.

Blogging: if they're people I know, I figure if it's something I would say to their face and they're not personally identifiable, fair game. I do write about my husband because I think he's such a neat person, I just want to share that... most of the time I get his permission but not always. Strangers in public spaces are mostly fair game. The one thing I come up against is the people in the drop-in centre where I volunteer because they didn't choose to have my volunteer there and they probably didn't choose their circumstances. However, they're so interesting that it does more public good for me to write about them than it does damage to their privacy. I am beginning to just in my compassion, that it will show through.

Photography: I worry less about people in my photography. When I'm in the open shooting people on the street, I have discovered there is a moment of consent, when they see the camera to my eye and they don't move away. People have asked me not to take any pictures of them and I always respect that.

In both cases (blogging and photography) the representations are more about the writer/photographer than about the subject... plus I just cannot resist sharing who and what I see.
Anonymous said…
Gosh. That pervasive burning plastic smell story is shudder-worthy. And the swollen lymphnodes...ugh. I haven't known you long, but I too feel like Slouching Mom. I'm beginning to urgently anticipate your we're moving post.

As for your final question...

I think that (for most) one's blog is a public version of a personal journal, which means that ostensibly what you write should be about you. Because other people feature prominently in our lives, of course they are going to become characters in our own story. And, as in a novel, sometimes we might take a diversion from the main character and talk about someone else for a few pages; but that story is really only important in as much as it conveys something universal or reveals more about our main character (us, the storyteller).

That said, even writing in the most respectful or constructive manner about the people we know (including our children) may have consequences we can't predict. Someone may be hurt, surprised, enraged over something we wrote and we will have to deal with that when it happens.

I do think it's important to have boundaries and that it's just plain disrespectful to write so much about others that their sense of privacy is violated, or to use one's blog to pick a fight, or publicly humiliate someone else (especially if you're married to or gave birth to them--which I have read, from high profile bloggers).
Aliki2006 said…
Oh no about that pastic smell-blech.

I think people we come across our know casually are fair fodder, as long as we don't use names. I struggle with this because I do write about my kids and they haven't expressly allowed me AND they are not extensions of me, but individual people with their own rights. So I try to be very mindful not to write about things that are deeply personal for them, or to post pics that show them in vulnerable positions. I do want to write about them to have a record of these days, for as long as this blogging thing lasts.
Kyla said…
Yay! The movie was good. I'd been interested in seeing it and it is good to get a nice recommendation.

As far as the burning smell, EEK! That's awful, although I am entirely relieved that your house was not on fire.

And that is why I don't usually blog about friends or extended family, even though you KNOW it is a comedy gold mine. GOLD MINE. But I restrain myself, because if my bog ever becomes not so secret, I don't want that to make things worse.
I work directly across the Mississippi river from a paper manufacturer, and when the barometric pressure is low and the wind is right, the "steam" from the plant wafts across the river and slams directly into our building. Here's literally how we describe it... "Ugh, it really smells like ass in here today."

I know, very nice.
Robert said…
Last year when there were big wild fires burning near our home, we had to stop walking and jogging outside because the smoke made it unbearable and dangerous to breath. I completely empathize with you on that count.
we_be_toys said… the toxic stench - reminds me of living in downtown Raleigh, near the Purina Plant. We would like to sniff and speculate which kind of "Chow" they were making that day!

As for blogging and who is fair game; my general rule of thumb is, if it's my family or my friends, no personal stuff without permission. Other bloggers, I need their permission as well, unless I'm linking to something they wrote (and it would still be nice to ask).
does that make me old fashionedly polite? Maybe. Do I want to do unto others, etc? You betcha.

Hoping for some good news on your puppy dog :(
Kat said…
How scary is that? The chemical plant, not the movie. Sheesh. Talk about scary.
I wanted to see 27 Dresses but thought it would turn out to be just another poorly written romantic comedy. So glad you recommended it. I think I'll try and convince the hubby to see it with me.
Gwen said…
So there seems to be an immediate link between your health issues and the pollution. You guys looking for new jobs yet?

And how lickably hot was James Marsden (I have Ms. Heigl fatigue, I'm afraid)?
Liv said…
I don't think people are fair game. I have a lot of situations that I think it's best not to blog about. I don't blog about my boyfriend, my exhusband, my friends--IRL or bloggy, or really anyone without permission. In as much as I feel my life is sacred, I want the people I love to be with me safely and not feel as if they're lunching with Truman Capote in Manhattan back in the day.
Gina Pintar said…
I am disturbed about that smell! Especially since you have lived there for awhile and am guessing you get used to the smells where you live.

Glad your house was not on fire.
First of all, I'm terribly jealous that you went to the social media conference and I didn't get to. Ditto 27 Dresses. Not ditto the toxic fume neighborhood.

Secondly, everyone is blog fodder. EVERYONE. But if it's something that might get them in trouble or totally embarrass them then I might let them proofread it first. My husband does not agree with this philosophy of mine.
jeanie said…
When I lived inner city, we used to get fumes - from the brewery, pleasant on a good day, overwhelmingly sickening on a bad. I am putting my "sell up and move to my neighbourhood" hat in the ring - although all that fresh air and sea smell may put you off. (Okay, we get the cane burning during some months, so - shock, horror - you have to take your clothes off the line before 5 some months).

I wish I could see a movie. One that is for grown ups and grown ups only...

About the writing stuff - I think personal journal write what you will, give it to the public make sure that you will not hurt anyone.
Anonymous said…
re #3--I know, I have no idea what to do about that either. The bother is that I really HATE writing about myself all the time, it feels so self-absorbed, but without turning everyone around you into blog fodder, what can you do? Times like htat I really envy the political bloggers.
Melissa said…
The lemons part? Why we live in Austin. Seriously, they hire architects here. There is a boatload of construction going on here. We even have lakes that won't dissolve your skin. :)

And we're having a chick night soon. I'll have to recommend that movie. ")
Melissa said…
Forgot the last part...

It's not like I avoid blogging about people I know, it's just that it usually comes up in passing. Like talking about GT kids, I'll bring up my kids. Or crappy Christmas presents. But I don't, except one time, blog about a person or what they did. Mostly because this is all about me and what I think. It's a pretty selfish blog. Frankly, it's the only place I can be selfish.
Yikes! About the smell. If I were you I would fire off a letter to your senators and representatives and cc: the local papers... if everyone ignores it the company will too.
Scary. No one wants a rubbery chemical smell invading their home. I'd be stuffing towels around all the doors and windows, but I'm freaky like that.

And I'm so sorry to hear about your dog's diagnosis. I've got my fingers crossed for him but if you ever want to bitch, email me.
dharmamama said…
Oh, dear. We have a cookie factory (not a bakery, these are mass-produced) close to our neighborhood, so every so often when the wind is right we get whiffs of fresh-baked nilla wafers.

Who do you even contact about noxious smells? The newspaper? The EPA? (ha, ha) I'm so sorry you were breathing that... stuff.

Blog fodder? Good question. I think if something inspires you, write about it. If it's personally identifiable, ask if it's OK, or change details so it's not. Link where you can. *I* trust you!
Anonymous said…
Living close to the same smells as Julie, I can attest that winter months are the worst. Spring, summer and most of fall, we get air from over the water, which helps a lot. Not so much this time of year. Most people are used to it - however, I'm one of the sensitive ones, as well. I turn on my a/c just to clean my air, change my HEPA filter monthly, and wash my car frequently, the scum on the windshield is proof enough for me. It is scary around here at times. Stay inside and take care of yourself, girlfriend! If people would vote in legislators that cared about our health, changed the grandfathered clauses for the violating plants (they always do their "releases" after hours), and made them clean things up, we'd all be better off. -AnotherMom
anne said…
How awful about the smell. Isn't there anyone you can go to?

Regarding writing about other people, I try not to write nasty or mean things about people. My family is such a huge part of my life that is would be hard to leave them out. Although, sometimes my hubby will do something particularly goofy and say "You're not going to mention that in your blog, are you?" So I have to give in. :)
Anonymous said…
I'm so sorry about the smell... I really am.

I know so many people who read my blog, (they are lurkers) -- so with that in mind, I cannot write about them. I do wish I had kept my a secret...because I have such great stories about them! LOL. I did write one post, however, about people my husband works with. I waited several months before I posted it, still, I sometimes think maybe I shouldn't have done it. But, on the other hand, it was an amazingly weird and funny post, and everyone LOVED it... and it was TRUE.
flutter said…
I just haven't been able to stop thinking about your dog :(
Sounds horrid. The smell, I mean, not your night out!

I'm glad to know someone else worries about what the firefighters might think! ;)

As for your question -- I try to pretend that any person I might write about is a regular reader of my blog. (OK, well, this hasn't applied to in-laws thus far...)

I think it's impossible to be a writer and NOT write about the people we know, even if only peripherally.

I am the queen of justification. Have to be, since my day job also requires me to write about other people.
Julie, what about the connection between your lymph nodes/glands aching and that toxic smell?

My blog is a 'travel blog' more than anything -- and everyone who's mentioned on it knows and has access to it. Which works as a good moderator for me, I think. I would love to have an anon blog where I can write about some of the stuff I cannot write about now. But then I'd have to totally fictionalize people and places. I think that would be OK. As long as I'm not hurting anyone, I should be allowed to write about my own experiences/opinions/impressions of things.

Sorry to be rambling. Happy weekend to you and your gang. I know it's been a rough week - I hope for a better one for you next week.

niobe said…
Toxic town indeed. Is there even the teeniest chance you'd consider moving elsewhere? Because, honestly? That's just plain scary.
niobe said…
Toxic town indeed. Is there even the teeniest chance you'd consider moving elsewhere? Because, honestly? That's just plain scary.
Anonymous said…
Ok, I need some closure on the plastic smell. What was it?! Did it go away?!
Anonymous said…
Totally relate. Just went through a burning smell at the office. Turned out to be someone who left a plastic container in the microwave too long and it melted.

I can't believe how much I enjoyed 27 Dresses. Took my daughter for something to do, and lost track of how many times I laughed out loud. Often enough that my daughter was ready to move to another seat from embarrassment. :)

As for writing about others. That gets a big "it depends." On the person, the circumstances, the potential for hurt.
Magpie said…
Julie - that's awful! How can they get away with that kind of wholesale pollution? Oh, man. I feel for you.
Lawyer Mama said…
That burning smell is very, very disturbing....

"are people we know fair fodder for writing? People in our real lives? People we know or read online? Other bloggers? Things we read, such as blog posts, emails, news stories, etc? Are other people and the things they do fair fodder for our blogs (or other writing)?" That sounds like a Wed. topic for the future!

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